Parks on pine beetle: We’ve got this

Parks Canada maintains it has a handle on risks presented by mountain pine beetle (MPB) in Jasper National Park.

Meanwhile, the Municipality of Jasper will be barking up another tree in the hopes of getting more action to prevent a potential disaster.

Despite Jasper’s mayor “sounding the alarm,” according to a June 16 CBC article, over the threat MPB-infested forests pose to public safety in the form of wildfire risk, Parks Canada says it has tools in place to actively manage MPB as the situation dictates.

Moreover, officials assert Jasper National Park is not an epicentre of mountain pine beetle from which the insects are spilling uncontrollably into Alberta’s working forest.

“Our policy completely allows us to actively manage this situation when there are economic, social or public safety implications,” said Salman Rasheed, resource conservation manager for Jasper National Park.

On June 16, Yellowhead MP Jim Eglinski rose in the federal House of Commons to suggest MPB does indeed have implications. He asked what sort of plan the Liberal government has put in place to protect Jasper from mountain pine beetle.

“Residents are concerned for their own safety,” Eglinski said. “There is a high risk of wildfire fuelled by a forest devastated by the pine beetle.”

Minister of Environment and Climate Change Catherine McKenna replied that Parks Canada is working on it.

Jasper National Park’s mountain pine beetle plan has three main management actions available to officials: single tree harvesting—removing single or multiple trees from accessible, leading edge zones; patch harvesting—the removal of larger stands of trees to create wider fire guards; and prescribed burns. Rasheed said the plan is based on the best science available and also pointed out the partnerships Parks Canada nurtures with provincial and regional partners, industry stakeholders, as well as the Municipality of Jasper.

“I feel strongly that we are working in a cooperative and collaborative way,” Rasheed said.

Jasper Mayor Richard Ireland said town council has had full and frank discussions with Parks Canada over the long course and that at this point, he’s satisfied a good working relationship exists on this issue. However, he is hopeful that Eglinski will raise the issue with the federal Minister of Public Safety.

“We’ve gone as far as we can go with Parks Canada,” Ireland said. “We still believe that in order to protect lives first and the economy second…perhaps more should be done.”

Asked what he would say to people concerned that the townsite is at greater risk with more pine trees being infected by beetles, Rasheed said that the issue is less about mountain pine beetle and more about living in a forested landscape. He added that Jasper has resources available to it should wildfire threats escalate.

“Yes there’s mountain pine beetle in the park but there’s a lot of fuel regardless of mountain pine beetle,” he said. “Whether mountain pine beetle was here or not we would probably have a similarly high level of response to wildfire.”

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